While the Ebola virus threatens to spread to the large city of Goma and neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized Wednesday, July 17, the epidemic of haemorrhagic fever as a "public health emergency of international concern".

BREAKING NEWS: The #Ebola outbreak in #DRC constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, citing the geographical expansion of the virus: WHO Director-General, @DrTedros following the IHR Emergency Committee's recommendation #alert

World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 17, 2019

"We need to work together with DR Congo to end this epidemic and build a better health system," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, calling on the international community to "redouble efforts".

This decision was met with a lukewarm reception by the Congolese Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga. He "hopes that this decision is not the result of the many pressures from different groups (...) who wanted to use this statement as an opportunity to raise funds for humanitarian actors," he wrote in a statement.

This is the fourth time that WHO has activated its international health emergency procedure since 2009 - including once in 2014 for the great Ebola outbreak that killed 11,000 people in West Africa.

A change of method acclaimed

Despite a massive vaccination campaign and a rapid international response, the epidemic has continued to spread in DR Congo since a new outbreak was declared there last summer. The virus infected more than 2,500 people, nearly 1,700 of whom died. Instability and violence continue to disrupt the fight against the virus in the east of the country, slowing down vaccination campaigns and medical checks.

A committee of international experts - who advise the WHO - had refused three times to declare a health emergency, but the case reported this week in Goma, a city of two million people in eastern DR Congo, amplified worries.

After the death of the patient, the question arises of the number of contacts he may have had from the moment he developed the first symptoms. Most have been vaccinated, say the health authorities. On Wednesday night, Ugandan authorities are looking for people who have been in contact with a confirmed case of Ebola from the DRC.

For Doctors Without Borders (MSF), "we need to change our methods" in the Ebola response. "In a context where the search for contact cases is not totally effective and where all the affected people are not reached, a larger approach is essential for the prevention of the epidemic", writes the NGO in a communicated.

Regional risk

The WHO reported Wednesday four incidents in Uganda, where nearly 600 people may need to be vaccinated. In a report, the committee of experts, meeting Wednesday in Geneva (Switzerland), said it noted "worrying signs of a possible extension" of the epidemic of haemorrhagic fever.

However, WHO's director of the committee, Robert Steffen, qualified the designation as a "health emergency", stating that the epidemic was still a regional rather than a global threat. "The risk of Ebola spreading in the region remains high, but it remains low outside," said Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointing out that there was no need to close the borders, control the ports or the airports. outside the region concerned or to stop trading.

In Geneva, the experts also expressed their "disappointment about the delays in financing" the aid. Dr. Tedros added that the priority is to accelerate the production of the vaccine, whose stocks are dwindling.

With AFP and Reuters